© AP Photo/Al Grillo
© AP Photo/Al Grillo

The International Arctic Fisheries Symposium convened in Anchorage, Alaska last week to discuss management of fish stocks in the world’s northern waters. 150 people from the fields of science, politics, and industry shared ideas about migratory, transboundary, and straddling fish stocks.  Geopolitics, then, are even affecting cod and char.  The symposium focused on how scientific and fisheries data could be used to improve future management decisions. The agenda also included the effects of climate change on both industry and subsistence users of the fisheries.

The representative of the U.S. Department of State, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries David Balton, was in attendance at the symposium. He remarked, “The Arctic is certainly the least well understood ocean on the planet, and in particular the area of the western Arctic nearest the United States, the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.”

Back in March at an interview with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, Balton was asked whether he would close the High Arctic to commercial fishing. He responded,

“The Arctic is not a single region for fisheries. There is an area of the Arctic close to the North Atlantic Ocean, and there, there [sic] are already major commercial fisheries and international mechanisms for managing those, and we think those are working fine, though they too will need to adapt as the fish stocks there move further north. On the part of the Arctic closer to the Bering Sea, there are no commercial fisheries yet, and within US waters in the Arctic, we have just adopted a rule that there should be no commercial fishing there until we learn more about the ecology and can set up some management rules for fisheries there.

There is also a high seas area in the central part of the Arctic. There is no fishing going on there, and probably not for many years. But we do think it is worthwhile exploring a concept that there ought to be no fishing allowed in the high seas area until some international rules are agreed.”

You can listen to his remarks in an interview at the FAO here.

During the interview, Balton also discussed the future of indigenous people in the Arctic who depend on the fisheries for their subsistence. He referenced some existing mechanisms for resource management, but added that ideally, a new type of system would be developed which would synchronize existing laws and mechanisms with a new type of organization. Currently, the Arctic Council and the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission are the two main intergovernmental bodies that deal with cross-border issues in the Arctic.

In light of Balton’s remarks at the FAO and his push last week for more international research in the Arctic, he is definitely a multilateralist when it comes to Arctic issues – a position that is representative of the Obama administration as a whole.

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